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Creating stability in a time of uncertainty

East-Central European countries, the Visegrád Four to include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, have developed a divergence of approaches to key issues of national defense. Measures of defense capability include size of defense budgets, numbers of persons in the armed forces, and willingness to engage in foreign deployments led by NATO and the EU that act as integrating forces within the region. The communist experiences of earlier decades have acted as legacies that have shaped countries’ post-1989 approaches to national and regional defense. However, the evolution of liberal-democratic patterns and systems have played a meaningful role as well. In spite of those convergence experiences and patterns, divergence among them has characterized their interactions as well. Poland has been more willing to take on regional defense obligations, while the other three have been more reluctant. Since the 2014 Ukrainian Crisis, a strident and divisive nationalism has shaken each of them and modified their approaches to defense issues.

Liberalism, realism, and constructivism
James W. Peterson
and
Jacek Lubecki

Chapter 1 sets up conceptual and theoretical frameworks for understanding divergence and convergence in Czech, Slovak, Polish, and Hungarian (“Visegrád Four” countries) defense policies in the post-communist era. The chapter’s central argument is that post-communist convergence between Visegrád Four defense policies is best understood as a result of the universal adoption of liberal democratic political systems and ideologies by the countries in question. However, the chapter argues, post-communist divergence in the respective countries’ defense policies, made especially visible by their post-2014 differential reactions to the Russo-Ukrainian Crisis and its fallout cannot be understood within the framework of liberalism as both a political system and a theory of international relations. Different schools and concepts of realism and constructivism are therefore evoked as necessary for illuminating the noted divergence between Poland, which responded robustly and in militaristic fashion to the perception of Russian threat, and the rest of the Visegrád countries, with their lukewarm responses. Within realism, the chapter draws attention to Poland’s distinctive geopolitical position. Within constructivism, the chapter evokes the notions of “role theory” and “strategic cultures” as key for understanding the countries’ diverging polices.

in Defense policies of East-Central European countries after 1989
Security and defense realities of East-Central Europe
James W. Peterson
and
Jacek Lubecki

Chapter 2 examines pre-communist histories of Visegrád countries in search of historical sources of their strategic cultures. Central to the chapter’s inquiry is the fact that all four countries in the modern/early modern age were conquered and peripheralized by larger imperial entities. Hungary and Czech lands (Bohemia) were subjected to Habsburg rule; Poland was partitioned by Russia, Prussia and the Habsburg empire; and Slovak lands were doubly peripheralized within the framework of the Hungarian Kingdom and as a part of the Habsburg empire. However, each of the entities in question had a different past prior to imperial subjugations, each experienced the subjugation differently, and each emerged in 1918 as sovereign entities with distinctive memories of the past and under different structural conditions. Still, all of the countries in question succumbed to Nazi and Soviet imperialism during the Second World War, albeit the subjugation came in different forms and under different circumstances.

in Defense policies of East-Central European countries after 1989
From forced convergence to divergence
James W. Peterson
and
Jacek Lubecki

Convergence with Stalinist expections characterized the political experiences of all four states in the immediate period after the post-Second World War transition to communist political patterns. However, divergence from Moscow-led communist directives took place in Poland in 1956 and 1980, in Hungary in 1956, and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Post-Stalinism in the four East-Central European countries took the form of both unrest under the directives from Moscow and the efforts of top political leaders to conform with the policy positions emanating from the East. Warsaw Pact invasions stifled innovation in all three communist era states but raised expectations in the underground for change in a future and better day. Their communist era resistances to control by Moscow were futile in the short term but important in the long-run in laying a foundation for the return to self-autonomy after 1989.

in Defense policies of East-Central European countries after 1989
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A reluctant ally
James W. Peterson
and
Jacek Lubecki

In the period after the fall of communism, the Czech Republic after 1993 fastened on membership in NATO as a tool for enhancing security in the new more pluralistic period. They enacted military reforms that eventually led to a fully voluntary military force in the early twenty-first century. Defense budgets centered on achievement of the NATO goals of 2% of GDP spent on defense, and they achieved that by the time of alliance membership in 1999 but tailed off into lower amounts in the following years. NATO-related deployments of their military forces were central in terms of the dispatch of Czech troops to Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Eventually European Union obligations determined their strategies in Bosnia after the transiton from NATO to EU control in December 2004.

in Defense policies of East-Central European countries after 1989
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Imperial legacies and post-imperial realities
James W. Peterson
and
Jacek Lubecki

Forces of liberal convergence drove Hungary to dismantle the communist-era military establishment, subject it to democratic-civilian control, and to join NATO. After 1999 NATO membership, and 2004 EU membership, in turn, led the country’s defense policies adjustment to requirements of liberal alliance politics, including multilateral deployments abroad in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Hungarian defense doctrines, the size of the country’s military structure and role followed the liberal alliances paradigm. However, the persistent theme throughout all these adjustments was Hungary’s neglect of military spending and lack of emphasis on military dimensions of security. The chapter argues that this persistent theme is a result of peculiar anti-militaristic strategic culture resulting from collective traumas of the twentieth century. The Hungarian recent turn towards nationalistic populism changed little in both façade orientation of Hungarian defense policies around liberal alliance policies and a neglect of defense policies as the reality behind the façade.

in Defense policies of East-Central European countries after 1989
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Return to the West?
James W. Peterson
and
Jacek Lubecki

Poland’s strategic choice to adopt liberal democratic institutions both externally and internally defined the country’s defense policies in the post-communist period. This chapter describes the country’s efforts to dismantle the communist-era defense establishment and adjust its defense policies to the task of joining NATO, which was successfully accomplished by 1999. Between 1999 and 2014, following the imperatives of liberal alliance politics and of its unique strategic culture Poland played the role of “loyal” member of NATO and EU and of “security provider,” especially on multilateral overseas missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Poland’s adjustment of its defense policies, military size, structure, and doctrine to post-9/11 imperatives of the “war on terror” led to the relative neglect of its conventional and territorial defense capacities. After 2013–14 Ukrainian Crisis, Poland accelerated its conventional military build-up, backed by a robust pattern of military spending which has marked the country as an outlier among Visegrád countries.

in Defense policies of East-Central European countries after 1989
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Politics from the periphery
James W. Peterson
and
Jacek Lubecki

Slovakia had been on the periphery of the region due to its historic role in the Hungarian Empire prior to the 1918 formation of the Czechoslovak state. However, the state moved into a more Western orbit after the First World War and then asserted its own national autonomy after achieveing independence from the Czechoslovak state in 1993. Debates about the size of its armed forces were crucial in light of its aspirations for membership in NATO, a hope that came to fruition in 2004. Their troops did play a role in the alliance involvements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and Bosnia just before and after their entry into the Western military alliance. In spite of their small size, their perceptions of themselves as a small nation or “tiger”on the move made them a significant player in regional defense strategies.

in Defense policies of East-Central European countries after 1989
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From convergence to divergence and back?
James W. Peterson
and
Jacek Lubecki

Overall, the Visegrád Four states were central players in the development of Central European defense policies after the 1989 anti-communist revolutions. Ideological change from conformity to communist patterns, to espousal of democratic values was the underlying thrust of their political and policy evolution, and this had a profound impact on their ensuing defense policies. Activities that centered on defense issues characterize their involved role in both NATO and EU deployments, and these emphasized the draw of convergence. However, divergence themes emerged as well, with the rise of powerful nationalistic political forces in each state. After 2015, the flow of refugees from troubled Middle Eastern states intensified the conflict within each of the four states, between those political forces that favored openness and those that preferred closure.

in Defense policies of East-Central European countries after 1989